Chapter 92

               Owen could hear the familiar beeping of electronic battle before he stepped through the front door of the Mordent penthouse. Hexcellent, no doubt, playing her games and cursing at the screen. Bubble Bubble would probably be nearby, reading a magazine or surfing the internet. Zone would be in the gym, either exercising or icing his knees. And Galvanize, the team leader, would probably be off somewhere doing all the work that kept things running smooth. It had snuck up on him, how much he’d gotten to know and care about these people, barely older than his own children, in their time together. It had never really struck him that there might be an end in sight; now that it had, he entered the room with a heart that was just a touch heavier than normal.

                To his surprise, it was not only Hexcellent smashing on the control as her digital avatar battled a giant woman with a fearsome axe. Bubble Bubble was sitting next to her, controlling said axe-wielder, focusing so hard on the fight that she’d forgotten to wear her usual mask of composure. Nearby, Galvanize sat on the couch, eating some of the butter-and-salt-free popcorn that was kept on hand. Zone was in the corner, doing some light curls as he watched the scene unfold.

                “Must be one hell of a game,” Owen said, taking in the scene before him. Save for Hexcellent, he’d been wrong on just about every count of where he thought his team would be.

                “Round-robin tournament,” Hexcellent spat out, physically jerking her whole body as she angled her ninja with a giant spear around the screen, leaping down to score a hit on Bubble Bubble that took off nearly a quarter of her health.

                “Since we had a long day today, and have to do the tug-of-war tomorrow, it seemed like a good idea for us all to unwind,” Galvanize said, shrugging as if he’d been bullied along into agreeing.

                “Hexcellent and I are in the lead,” Zone boasted. “So far we’ve done racing games and fighting games.”

                “Those reflexes of yours aren’t going to mean shit once we get to the puzzle games,” Hexcellent said, slamming her fists into the buttons so hard Owen genuinely feared for the plastic device’s safety. “You can still jump in, if you want. Obviously you can’t win, but I’ve seen you play. I think we all know that was never going to happen in the first place.”

                “Cruel, but accurate,” Owen admitted. Part of him wanted to retire to his room, to think about what Lenny had said and what the future held. But that was just dwelling, and if the bar in Colorado had proved nothing else, it was that once Owen started dwelling it took a hell of a lot to shake him out of it. Time was better spent around the people he enjoyed. “Let me grab a shower first, then I’ll come out here and snatch last place away from whoever currently has the title.”

                “That would be Galvanize,” Bubble Bubble supplied helpfully.

                “My parents thought video games would rot the mind,” Galvanize said, mounting a weak defense to his apparent lack of digital skills.

                “Who the hell wants an un-rotted mind?” Hexcellent asked as she made her ninja throw the spear, which slammed just below the axe-wielding woman’s sternum and took away the remainder of her hit points. “Booyah! Suck my metaphorical dick.”

                “There are days I wonder about the metaphorical part,” Bubble Bubble muttered. “Galvanize, you’re up. Hurry before Titan finishes his shower so less of us will see your shame.”

                As Galvanize headed for her seat on the couch, Owen made his way down the hall toward his room. Happy as it made him, it was strange to see them all together like this. He was so sure they’d be off doing their own thing when he got back, how could he have been so wrong? It was just as Owen’s hand closed around the doorknob of his room that the answer struck him.

                Owen had been predicting their actions based on how they used to be. Between waves of criminals under collapsing bridges, watching their liaison take on a whole team of Heroes, BB’s own scandal and occasionally sneaking beers, they’d actually started to come together. Not only as a team, but as a unit of people who liked one another. It was strangely heartwarming to realize he’d gotten to bear witness to such an event. And maybe, in his own small ways, helped contribute to it.

                His fingers were just reaching under his mask, preparing to peel it away, when a familiar voice appeared in his right ear. “Titan, this is Dispatch. Are you on-comm?”

                “Titan responding, what’s going on, Dispatch?” He lowered his hands from the mask, letting it rest in place. Depending on Dispatch’s next words, he might need to go right back out into the world, and being still in costume would save him several precious seconds. They wouldn’t mean much to him, but for anyone who needed help, those seconds might be a literal lifesaver.

                “Modus Operandi has requested a bulletin go out to all Heroes in the Brewster area. Today, several covert attacks were carried out on the communications network in and around all of Brewster. While they did not interrupt phone and internet services, they did cripple them. The restraint was estimated to be intentional. It is expected that one more set of attacks will bring down the entire communication structure, though our own Hero-issue equipment would not be effected, thanks to the alternate systems used.”

                “Got it. Someone sawed through most of the tree that is Brewster’s communications network, so that they can bring the whole thing down with one good blow when they need to. Add a little mayhem, and with no one able to talk to one another it’s a recipe for chaos. Damn, that is crafty,” Owen admitted. “So what’s the plan for fixing it? Since Modus Operandi noticed the attacks, I’m guessing they’ve got a way to patch things back up. Do they need me to lift anything?”

                “I will check, though it is doubtful.” Dispatch either had no sense of humor or willfully plowed through jokes, which seemed like the same thing after long enough working with her. “Modus Operandi asked me to pass on this bulletin in order to request that no Hero take any action to repair the damage. They feel at this point showing our awareness would make the attackers wary, perhaps changing their plans. To quote: ‘Next time we might not catch their ambush ahead of time.’ Therefore, all Heroes are placed on alert to a potential situation in the next week and asked to keep their earpieces in at all times.”

                “I’ll do that,” Owen said, beginning once more to pull his mask away. “And Dispatch, would you be so kind as to pass a message to Jeremiah of Modus Operandi back for me?”

                “Certainly, Titan. What is your message?”

                “Tell him I understand the tactical need for taking this kind of risk, and I get where they’re coming from with wanting to capitalize on advanced knowledge.” Owen flung his mask onto his bed, where it lay there, staring up at him.

                “All the same, I’m not a fan of using a whole fucking city for bait. Tell Jeremiah that he’d better be ready for whatever comes, because if this goes sideways I’m holding him personally responsible.”

                “Your message will be passed on,” Dispatch replied. “Though it may be a while before he hears it. There are currently twenty other similarly worded messages ahead of yours in his queue.”

                Owen snickered, and considered the possibility that Dispatch might just have a sense of humor in there after all.